Take us to Mars, Beagle team says

Next-generation craft unveiled

The team behind the lost Beagle 2 lander has outlined plans for a third generation craft, Beagle 2: Evolution, that could yet go to Mars.

Although the European Space Agency did not ask the team for new ideas, Professor Pillinger is keen to present the idea to the space agency as soon as possible. The team hopes the lander could be incorporated into the Aurora programme's so-called demonstration mission.

Pillinger says that his team has learned from the mistakes made of Beagle 2, and have incorporated all that learning into the new design.

Some things will be the same: for instance, the lander will still have a robotic arm with most of the experiments on its far end. A gas analysis package that will test for signs of microbial life will be inside the main body of the craft. Finally, the team says it has been considering including chips that can detect amino acids.

The craft will be the same shape, but because solar cells are more efficient now, it will fold out into just two panels, instead of four. The panels will now unfold in a fan-fold style, the team explained. This means that although the communications antenna will still be inside the casing during the flight, once the panels are unfolded, it should always be pointing upwards.

The team is also considering an external, X-band communications system that would give mission scientists on Earth real-time information on the craft's journey, particularly its descent through the Martian atmosphere.

Rather than using bouncing ball airbags, the team is considering so-called deadbeat airbags. These are easier to test, and mean that the craft won't bounce all over the Martian surface when it lands. Instead, the airbags inflate underneath it just prior to landing, and deflate on impact. ®

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